Making a Game Part 1d: Refinement

Refinement – This is all about reiteration and galvanizing the product after analysis. Be prepared to go back to the first step to help the product. Also get feedback where and when possible. Only through a process of re-iteration can your product go from strength to strength.

Okay, now to refine my game idea a bit:

A narrative-driven empathy game that explores depression and promotes mental health awareness.

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Making a Game Part 1c: Synthesis

Synthesis or Evolving – Develop mind maps for the game. Can do brainstorming sessions using the Post It Method.

Post It Method – As a group, have a time limit (such as 2 minutes) to write ideas on post it notes. One idea per post it note. Then a coordinator will collect the post it notes and link similar ideas. Rinse and repeat multiple times. Then finally spend an additional 1 minute to fill in any lacking categories. The take a picture of all the post it notes, and generate a Mind Map. The entire process shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes, so that creativity wouldn’t be stifled by boredom.

This activity is emergent and organic.

Since I’m only working on my own, I decided to use another method. I took an online class on “Crash Course on Creativity” by Tina Seeling before, and one of the activities taught was to list at least 100 ideas on a given topic. If I remember correctly, the reasoning behind generating so many ideas is similar to the Post It Method, it is meant to be emergent and organic. You will start with normal and expected ideas, and as you go on, ideas gets weirder, and more and more out of the box.

So here goes listing as many ideas as possible…

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Making a Game Part 1b continued: Comparative Analysis

Games for Change actually has a list of games list for Art and Empathy.

Link: http://www.gamesforchange.org/game_categories/art-and-empathy/

First of all, because I only have more or less 3 months to make a game, so it’s going to be a mobile game developed using Unity. Also because of the time constraints, it’s going to be a relatively short experience. Also given my lack of full blown art skills… Yah, no elaborate and photo-realistic 3d or anything. So given those parameters, I will only be looking at relatively short games, preferably on mobile. And also nothing AAA.

So here goes…

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Making a Game Part 1b: Research

Research

Also known as playing games (yup, yeah for doing a Masters degree in games!).

So it’s Research/Analysis– How to you solve the problem and deal with the task at hand. Ensure that you spent a chunk of time doing research into how to effectively deal with the task.

There are different resources available such as:

  • gaming knowledge and intuition of good gameplay vs bad gameplay
  • creative minds from other inspirations (like for like or cross-medium)
  • comparative analysis of other products (look at other products, and they don’t necessarily have to be games)
  • and of course, ensure that you have reference sources at all stages of development

 

So yes, onto researching stuff in order to answer my problems.

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Making a Game Part 1a: Identifying the Problem

For the lack of a name for the game (whatever game that I will end up making), I’ll just title these series of posts: “Making a Game”.

Okay, making a game sounds easier than it looks. Oh wait, actually it doesn’t sound easy either. Anyway…

First of all, what is the game even going to be?

When designing games, consider the Triforce. The Triforce is: Core Mechanics, Interactivity, and Narrative and Storytelling.

So instead of just randomly grabbing an idea from the air to come up with the Triforce, I will try to use the Process of Design to come up with something.

So what is the Process of Design?

It is:

Problem -> Research -> Synthesis -> Refinement

First up:

Problem– What is the task at hand? Ensure that you detail every detail about the problem, and take nothing for granted. It is an iterative process, so it’s also important to bear in mind, that as the project evolves, new problems may emerge. This is where you list all the parameters to help you design your game.

So let’s identify some problems.

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My CV isn’t great and here’s why…

I passed by my classmate’s desk and saw that he had a ninja-shaped thumb drive, and I commented, “Oh, I used to work in the company that made that.”

In case you had no idea what I was talking about, this is the ninja-shaped thumb drive. Cute, right?

Another classmate commented, “Is there anywhere you haven’t worked, Michelle?”

That is a valid question. Even headhunters have commented that my CV isn’t so great.

Well, my response for people who don’t know me (after moving to the UK and realising that they have no clue about how old Asians look), start with, “How old do you think I am?”

Followed by, “I have 8 years experience as a programmer.” (And no, I’m not a child genius, and also I think child slavery laws also apply to programmers).

I am 29 years old, and I’m turning 30 this September (even though most people think I look 20 ish).

I graduated with a degree in Computer Science at one of the top universities in the Philippines.

DE LA SALLE UNIVERSITY- MANILA

BS Computer Science, Major in Software Technology

2005–2008

I got my first job when I was 21. It was at a games outsourcing company in the Philippines.

PROGRAMMER, LADYLUCK DIGITAL MEDIA

2008–2009

That was my first foot in the door, so to speak.

The game industry in the Philippines back then was mostly games outsourcing, but they worked on cool AAA projects. The company I worked for also did cute casual Flash games, which is what drew me in.

The first games I helped with in the company was a “Mean Girls” game (yes, the movie) and a “Clueless” (yes, also the movie) game. Yes, this is what I dolphin squealing on the inside signed up for.

I also learned how to use Unity before it was cool, and also before it was available on the PC.

Even though the company’s main source of income is outsourcing, my boss’ dream is, of course, make his own game. So we also made a lot of prototypes. A lot. Sadly, nothing ever came out of it.

Then I had one of the moments you get when you lived in a foreign country all your life — the urge to find your roots. My roots was in Taiwan.

So I quit my job.

And at 22, my sister and I packed our bags and moved out of parent’s home for the first time and moved to our supposed home country.

Where everything was in Chinese. I grew up speaking Mandarin at home, and I had attended a Chinese school, but it was nothing. I had the vocabulary of a grade school student, and I could barely read and much less write in the language.

My parents were of course very supportive of our move, because my mother not so secretly thought our Chinese skills would improve (it did eventually, but only barely).

This was the time when mobile games were gaining popularity. So I got a job as a mobile games programmer at a small indie game studio ran by 2 ABCs (American born Chinese). I picked that company because my bosses spoke English. Oh also, I wanted to learn Objective-C.

PROGRAMMER, MOBILI STUDIO

2009–2010

At the company, I learned Cocos2d and Objective C, and I made both mobile games and applications. We also used Agile project management in our small team. It was the first time I worked in a company where in the entire company is the size of my lunch crew back at my old company.

The thing about mobile games is that the barrier of entry is significantly lower and it seemed pretty easy for anyone to make their game and put it up on the store. So I thought I could do.

So I quit my job, bought a Macbook Pro (who is still alive and kicking to this date) and tried to make my own games.

Turns out it’s not that easy. I had the attention span of a gold fish. I would start with one idea, and then abandon that idea and work on something else. And sadly, nothing came out of my prototypes either. I had a better understanding of my first boss and his constant change of ideas now, and I don’t blame him for it.

Aside from moving out, it was also the first time that I had ever been financially independent. It’s quite a big thing for me, because in the Philippines or at least in the community I grew up in, most people live at home and still rely on their parents financially even though they had been working for years.

With financial independence also comes bills to pay.

So I had to get another job. I wanted something near where I lived, because my last job was quite far and it took me a long time to get home.

My mom used to joke about the criteria you look for in a job, ‘close to home’ was one of it.

I was open to anything really. I sent my CVs to companies nearby, thankfully there was quite a few. And I’m the type that would line up at least 5 interviews in a week (yes, that is one per day) and then select one of them (assuming that I’d pass the interviews, exams and actually get offered a job. But my batting average back then was quite good) something completely arbitrary.

This reminds me, I haven’t told you about how I decided on my first job.

After graduating with a degree in Computer Science, it made sense to apply to IT and software jobs. Also since our university basically arranged for multinational software companies to come to our school and let use take the exams and have our initial interviews there. So I did.

My batting average was also pretty decent back then and I had a few options. But then it was to be the first job that will somehow decide the fate of the rest of my life, so I had to get it right.

So I happened to be in a toy store and I picked up this cute Magic 8 Ball. And I asked my question, and it gave me an answer. This is unfortunately a true story and not some made up cute anecdote.

Okay, back to deciding what was to be my 3rd job.

Aside from Magic 8 Balls, I also have a thing for signs and coincidences. I believe in fate, even though my Christianity probably says I shouldn’t (rather it tells me that it’s a sign from God or something).

I was at one of the interviews and waiting for their supervisor who would be a little late, and they gave me a magazine to read. There was a big ad in the magazine for cute thumb drives (remember the ninja-shaped ones I mentioned earlier).

Later in the week, I went to an interview in the company that makes cute thumb drives (and loads of other cute stuff). And I think I was sold by the cuteness. Also it seemed interesting to make an adver game in house.

PROGRAMMER, BONE COLLECTION, FRUITSHOP INTERNATIONAL CO.

2010–2013

I have to say it was definitely one of the most unique work experiences I have ever had. Because it’s a design company and even though there are different departments, it was a bit more open.

People moved about freely and helped each other. Since I was one of the very few people that spoke and wrote in English in that company, I got to do voice overs for YouTube video ads, copy write some descriptions in the packaging boxes. And also when push came to shove, everyone in the company pitched in to repack boxes and assemble thumb drives (just putting in the thumb drive in their silicone covers, nothing too complicated).

I also took full advantage of my employee discount, because the things they make are adorable. I also got freebies every now and then.

But then at the end of the day, it is a design company and our little team making games in a corner isn’t really their top priority.

But then it was my other colleague that was looking for new jobs that told me about another game company nearby that was hiring.

I was using Unity and Objective-C in this current company, and I felt like I wanted to learn something new. The other game company was a C++ programmer job, and I thought it would be nice to learn something new. So I applied.

PROGRAMMER, ORANGENOSE STUDIO

2013–2015

Now this job, this was definitely something.

Programming wise, I did get to learn C++ and we were using Cocos2d-x. We eventually did switch to Unity. But in Unity, I got to write a lot of plugins in both native iOS and Android. I learned to work with a lot of third party SDKs and code, as we integrated way too many ads, analytics and tracking, social stuff, and whatever else that makes up a mobile game, that isn’t the game.

I also learned a lot about making games that people want to play and can’t stop playing.

This was a small company too. And I think with small companies, everyone that joins the team is like a pebble that gets dropped in a puddle of water, and it create ripples.

I also managed to convince my little sister to work in this company as an artist. We were hiring, and I thought my lil sis was perfect for the job (not biased or anything).

My boss was Singaporean and he worked with a few people from the Philippines at this last job back there. It is a small world and those people turned out to be people I knew from the multimedia club I was in.

I guess, we, in a way, convinced him that the people in the Philippines are pretty good (actually they are awesome).

The ripple we created, brought us back to the Philippines. And there we setup a new branch of the company.

This is the bit wherein I got to be more than just a programmer. I assisted in the set-up of Orangenose Studio Manila branch, including headhunting, interviewing candidates, and training the game team. I also trained newcomers in Unity game engine, and the company’s game development process.

We travelled back and forth between Taiwan and the Philippines, and we enjoyed going home to a home-cooked meal and spending time with our mom.

While interviewing people, we always emphasised on T skills. But then I realised that I needed to expand my T skills. I know programming, but I wanted to learn more about game design and production, and I wanted to learn about how to eventually set up my own business.

I was also feeling a little fatigue from programming. Even though every game project is different, it still feels the same.

So I made the decision to go back to school and get a Masters degree.

I had also been living in Taiwan for almost 6 years, and I wanted a change of scenery. And even though I didn’t live with my parents, I lived with my sisters, and I have never been anywhere truly on my own.

So I applied to a school. The program is called MSc in Video Game Enterprise and Production (it didn’t have Design in the title, but it also covered it). The school is in the UK.

I got in. But then I couldn’t afford it. I wasn’t eligible to a student loan from Taiwan. My parents offered to pay for it. But I still deferred for a year.

I needed to get a job and earn money for living expenses. The criteria for this job hunt was simple: somewhere that pays well. I applied to companies, and one of my colleagues from my previous job told me that she was working at one of the places I applied to.

I went in for an interview that was more of a formality, because of her recommendation, and got the job.

PROGRAMMER, MATTEL (FORMERLY FUHU, INC.)

2015–2016

This job was also quite interesting. They are a company that makes tablets for kids, both hardware and apps.

I took over maintaining a lot of utility apps, as well as made new prototype games. One of the most interesting projects though is a fitness band for children. It was my first IOT project, wherein I worked closely with a third-party hardware manufacturer, and make the front end app.

A few months after I started working there, the company was actually acquired. By Mattel. As in Barbie. As in all my childhood dreams came true (I was a Barbie addict. I went beyond the dolls. I had Barbie school bags, Barbie shoes, Barbie everything).

Although, project wise, it just meant that we skinned our existing stuff to a Barbie and Hotwheels (yah, it wasn’t that interesting).

While I was working at this company, I was also contacted by Packt Publishing to do be a technical reviewer for a Cocos2d book.

TECHNICAL REVIEWER, PACKT PUBLISHING

2015

I also looked for more volunteer opportunities to boost my CV, because I thought I needed to be more impressive for school.

VOLUNTEER WORK

RISE CONFERENCE, HONG KONG — 2016

CASUAL CONNECT, SINGAPORE — 2016

As much as I wanted to continue working for Mattel, my plan was always to go back to school. So I quit that job at the end of August.

Then I moved to UK in September 2016. And I have been in school ever since.

BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY

MSc Video Game Enterprises and Production

2016

It’s May 2017 now, and I only have a few more months before the course ends. So I need to be on a job hunt again soon.

My CV to be continued…

I’m making a new game! (Yeah! or nay…)

As part of the Masters degree that I am doing in Video Game Enterprises and Production is the option of doing a solo project under the remit of ‘game’ or ‘interactive entertainment’. It’s either that or do a work placement in a company or continue working on a PS4 project with the rest of the class.

And on the train back from London after attending BAFTA Guru Live, I realized that this is the best time for me to do my own game. It’ll be like being indie, but without all the financial obligations, since I’m still within the safety bounds of school. Also I’ll be able to get support from my lecturers. Also I’ll be given a quite strict deadline.

I am a deadline oriented person, so I need deadlines to get anything done (which is why I do game jams, as insane as those deadlines are).

I guess I was inspired by the people who talked about “Their First Game”, and how they took a leap from their stable jobs and just gone indie.

I also did a short work placement at Media Molecule in Guildford, and while I was there I was able to talk to the people there. Hearing them talk about their game like it’s their baby and the impact that their game had on people, was just so heartwarming. When they first started out, they took a leap too.

I have always been afraid to take a leap. So during game conferences, when I was talking to people, I used say that I’m an indie with a day job, while now I just say that I’m a student.

One of the people I talked to at MM, described me as a game maker. I like making games in the vein of the Maker movement. I am a programmer by trade, but I enjoy all aspects of making the game.

I think of “making games” like a medium, in a way that writers write. It is a way of expression. It is a way of making people feel things. And I think in that way, games are quite powerful. But of course, in the same way that there are different genres of books and movies, there are also different genres of games.

When I sit down and really think about the games that I like making, I think it can be summarized using this:

Inspiration01

These are all quite short game jam games made in 48-72 hours.

So I want to create something longer, something deeper. Something that convey a message or a story, something that has an unique art style.

So what game am I making this time?

I wish I can make something as moving as “Dear Esther” and “That Dragon Cancer”, and as beautiful and unique like “Sailor’s Dream” and  “Lumino City”, and as quirky and charming as “Machinarium”, “Botanicula” and everything else Amanita Design comes up with.

I want to explore narrative and evoking emotions using games as a medium.

So what story do I want to tell?

This month is Mental Health Awareness month. A lot of people who suffer from depression don’t talk about it or don’t seek help, because of different reasons.

I’m personally one of those people. I wake up every morning and put a smile on my face before I go out, even though most of the time I feel like…

A wave crashing into rocks… Or drowning… With no way of swimming back to the shore…

I want to be able to talk about it. I need to be able to talk about it. And I’d like other people to know that they can talk about it too. And that it’s okay to not to be okay. And it’s okay to seek help.

Okay, this post just took a dark turn. Which is where the ‘nay?’ bit of the title comes from. It will like be presenting, rather exposing a part of myself out there. And that’s always scary.

Why am I doing this then?

I think, I think it’s because I need to.